No. 24 Article 8/November 6, 2009

Challenge Yourself for Higher Soybean Yields in 2010

The Illinois Soybean Association is launching an Illinois Yield Challenge to facilitate statewide on-farm research and innovation to increase soybean yields. Yields in Missouri greater than 150 bushels per acre in 2007 have already increased attention and experiments aimed at increasing yields in Illinois. This has been the topic of many of my 2009 field day presentations and will also be my focus at the 2010 Corn & Soybean Classics (www.cropsciconferences.org). This interest in experimentation to increase yields has encompassed university researchers and farmers alike. On-farm trials can provide important first-hand results and personal education. Farmers are extremely innovative and can find things that work best for their operations by trying new approaches. I know that this year evaluations and conclusions will be drawn from the final yields of many well-designed on-farm soybean experiments. Unfortunately, conclusions will also be drawn from some "experiments" that were, well, less well designed. I am talking particularly about efforts where new practices or products were tried as a "trial" on an entire field without a proper check or comparison plot.

To explain how a field experiment should be properly designed would depend heavily on the research hypothesis being questioned. However, there is no substitute for, no way to overlook, and simply no way to avoid the need for an appropriate control or check plot for comparison. Good research also needs a collection of sufficient observations and data from which conclusions can be drawn.

There are some great on-farm research resources online. One is from the Plant Management Network, and another, titled "A Practical Guide to On-Farm Research," is by Bob Nielsen of Purdue University. The Illinois Soybean Yield Challenge will be an additional option for on-farm soybean research guidance in Illinois next year.

For many of the reasons I've described above, the new challenge is unique to a yield contest because each on-farm participant will pair an "investigative plot" with a "normal practices" plot. With much cooperation from University of Illinois Crop Sciences faculty and the National Soybean Research Laboratory, we are striving to build a new, systematic way of harnessing the power of on-farm research to improve soybean yields through teamwork in Illinois.

All competitive yields will be the average of several farmer participants, with teams grouped according to the nine USDA National Agriculture Statistics Service (NASS) crop reporting districts in the state. The categorization eliminates some of the advantages and disadvantages of differing soil types and environments across Illinois and allows us to compare yields with USDA NASS crop reports. Therefore, no overall state yield challenge winners will be named.

Teams can be sponsored by any company or they can form independently, but I hope that many sectors of the agriculture production industry get involved since many different sectors are advancing technology and products in ways that should enhance yield or improve the ability to manage soybeans. This challenge could play an important role in science by providing us questions to ask in other controlled experiments. Hopefully we can validate and refine results from the questions generated and then research and refine those into recommendations from which all Illinois farmers can benefit.

For more information about the program, visit www.soyyieldchallenge.com or contact the Illinois Soybean Association at 309-663-7692. Registration will continue until April 1.--Vince Davis

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